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by Louise Wilson
17 January 2023
Alister Jack: Gender recognition bill has ‘serious adverse impact’ on Equality Act

Alister Jack: Gender recognition bill has ‘serious adverse impact’ on Equality Act

The Gender Recognition Reform Bill would have a “serious adverse impact” on the Equality Act, Scottish Secretary Alister Jack has said.

Explaining why he took the unprecedented step of blocking the bill passed by the Scottish Parliament, Jack said it would impact on the operation of single sex spaces and on equal pay protections.

But SNP politicians have accused the UK Government of attacking devolution by vetoing Scottish legislation.

The section 35 order and a full statement of reasons has been published, which provides details of the areas the bill is thought to impact on reserved matters, though Several MPs criticised the Scottish secretary for not making it available in time for his appearance in the Commons.

Jack said: “This is not about preventing the Scottish Parliament from legislating on devolved matters but about ensuring that we do not have legal frameworks in one part of the UK which have adverse effects on reserved matters.

“We should be clear that this is absolutely not about the UK Government being able to veto Scottish Parliament legislation whenever it chooses, as some have implied. The power can only be exercised on specific grounds and the fact that this is the first time it has been necessary to exercise the power in almost 25 years of devolution emphasises that it is not a power to be used lightly.

“In the instance of the Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill, I have concluded that the bill would have serious, adverse effects on the operation of the Equality Act 2010.”

He also expressed concern about “significant compilcations” arising from having two separate gender recognition processes within the UK, suggesting this could increase fraudulent applications.

Jack said the Scottish Government could bring the bill back to the Scottish Parliament to be amended. He said: “What we would like the Scottish Government to do is to address the concerns we have around sufficient protections and safeguards for women and children across UK-wide legislation, and that to be reflected in the bill.”

SNP MSP Philippa Whitford argued the bill has no impact on the Equality Act.

She said: “Vetoing this legislation is an unprecedented attack on the Scottish Parliament, which passed the Gender Recognition Reform Bill 86 to 39, including MSPs from every single party.

“Gender recognition is a devolved policy area, and this does not change the 2010 Equality Act or given any additional rights to those with a [gender recognition] certificate.”

Labour’s Ian Murray accused both governments of using the bill to stoke a constitutional clash.

He said: “It appears to me that this has only become a last resort in terms of the legal timing because both governments can’t and won’t work with each other.”

Murray added: “Trans people, who suffer intense discrimination, will now not see this legislation take effect anytime soon. And women’s rights groups will likely not see their concerns addressed or their fears alleviated, because the simple truth is the Tories are more interested in constitutional fights than enshrining protection."

Scottish Tory leader and Moray MP Douglas Ross said: “Nicola Sturgeon has now tried to turn this into a political battle between the Scottish and UK Government, when all as I understand it the Scottish secretary and the government are trying to do is protect women’s rights.”

After the statement, SNP Westminster Stephen Flynn sought to bring a debate on the use of section 35 of the Scotland Act, insisting it highlighted a “democratic shortfall”. 

The Speaker has accepted this application.

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